Last week, I opined on what the Yankees should do with their free agents to be. As a result of injuries and poor performance, there was a great deal of roster flux this season, The team ended 2014 with in-season acquisitions seeing the majority of the at-bats at second base and third base, as well as a significant amount of playing time between right field and left field (as Brett Gardner slumped and Jacoby Ellsbury got hurt). The Yankees best position players in the second half were Chase Headley and Martin Prado (by fWAR), for example, and Brandon McCarthy may well have been the team's best starting pitcher over that time. While that sort of performance is more than welcome, it does not change the fact that a team full of disappointments will see the return of the most egregious offenders. As Cashman and co. create their gameplan for the off-season, it seems wise to tend to the team's own free agents before delving into the marketplace. There is certainly a benefit to having a greater degree of familiarity with players that the team would have undoubtedly targeted this winter - such as Headley, McCarthy, and Stephen Drew - as opposed to relying on scouting reports and meetings with folk like Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, and Max Scherzer. But I digress.
With all of this in mind, the starting point for any good shopping list is identifying what you have, what you need, and where you can get what you need. To kick things off, let's look at what the Yankees have heading into the off-season.
The team currently has ten players under contract: Brian McCann (C), Mark Teixeira (1B), Prado (2B/RF), Alex Rodriguez (3B), Brendan Ryan (SS), Gardner (LF), Ellsbury (CF), Carlos Beltran (RF/DH), CC Sabathia, and Masahiro Tanaka. This crop of players theoretically (and incredibly optimistically) forms eight-ninths of a starting lineup and the top two slots in the rotation. Andrew Bailey also has a team option, though it seems unlikely that the team would guarantee money to a pitcher did not throw a pitch at any level last season due to numerous setbacks.
After that, the Yankees have seven players who are arbitration eligible: Francisco Cervelli (C), Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Esmil Rogers, David Huff, and Shawn Kelley. Pineda will be in the rotation on Opening Day, Nova should be back at some point next Summer, and Phelps will likely continue to play the swingman role. Kelley was a reliable cog in the bullpen, and so he will likely be back. I doubt that Rogers will be tendered a contract, and Huff may be non-tendered, as well.
And then we have ... well ... everyone else in the organization that is under team control. This includes players who saw time in the Show this season - Dellin Betances, Shane Greene, John Ryan Murphy, Preston Claiborne, Bryan Mitchell, Jose Pirela, Antoan Richardson, Adam Warren, Chase Whitley, Eury Perez, and Zelous Wheeler - and players who have yet to get the call.
Looking through these names, you begin to see the outline of a depth chart. Ca - McCann, Cervelli 1B - Teixeira 2B - Prado, Pirela 3B - Rodriguez, Wheeler SS - Ryan LF - Gardner CF - Ellsbury, Perez, Richardson RF - Beltran SP - Tanaka, Sabathia, Pineda, Greene, Whitley, Nova, Phelps RP - Betances, Kelley, Claiborne, Mitchell, Warren
At face value, and again with a bit of optimism, this team has something to fall back on at every position (save for DH, I suppose). And this is where conjecture enters the equation - where should the team seek to improve?
In my mind, the team will be in the market for a second baseman, third baseman, shortstop, outfielder/DH, and at least one starting pitcher. Prado's flexibility is quite helpful as the team peruses the market, as his ability to play second or right will allow the team to identify the best possible solution for either, and move Prado accordingly. Beltran seems destined for a full-time DH role this season, both to keep him healthy and to bolster the outfield defense, whereas Rodriguez's role on the team is all but up in the air. It would behoove the Yankees to have him take reps at first base to serve as an in-house replacement if and when Teixeira ends up on the disabled list, at the very least.
Over the next week or so, I will look into these potential areas of need (or in need of upgrade) on an individual basis, and attempt to discern whether the team would be better off going with an in-house replacement or dipping into the free agent pool. I shall also do my best to remain pragmatic, balancing how we would all like the off-season to unfold against how the front office likely perceives the team.
And, most importantly, I will be going out of my way to praise Martin Prado, because he is wonderful.